Blog 5: Preface 7-8

"Catabaptists" is Calvin's term for "Anabaptists" - the sixteenth century radicals who basically wanted nothing to do with the earthly state, and did not encourage concern for the office of a magistrate or (in this case) the monarch. Calvin is keen to demonstrate to the King that Protestants, whilst critical of religious matters, are of a different stripe. Protestants prove loyal citizens, regularly pray for the King, demonstrate courage and fortitude as both citizens and soldiers and are the salt of the earth. Calvin is speaking of himself in these closing lines of the preface; speaking, let it be said, with uncharacteristic personal reference and self-defense. Employing a touch of irony, Calvin concedes: "We are, I suppose, wildly chasing after wanton vices!" since this is, presumably, what some had been saying to the King. 

In truth, he and his fellow-evangelicals were doing nothing of the sort. Nevertheless his colleagues were being treated brutally, some (as the five prisoners of Lyons could testify) unjustly imprisoned and facing martyrdom. It is Satan's work: "when the light shining from on high in a measure shattered his darkness, when that "strong man" had troubled and assailed his kingdom [cf. Luke 11:22], he began to shake off his accustomed drowsiness and to take up arms."

The preface has grown into what now looks like a "full-scale apology," and Calvin pleads with the King hoping that by these words "we may regain your favor, if in a quiet, composed mood you will once read this our confession, which we intend in lieu of a defense before Your Majesty."

Whether or not King Francis ever viewed Calvin or his Institutes in a better light as a result is doubtful. Nor can we be sure if he ever read this preface. Those of us, on the other hand, who have (or are committed to doing so on this, on the quincentenary year of his birth) will discover a mine that "keeps opening up as a veritable treasure trove of biblical wisdom on all the main themes of the Christian faith" (J. I. Packer, Foreword, Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes, Eds. David Hall and Peter Lillback [P & R, 2008], xiii).